ELDON — After 33 years of being a Marine, Colonel Eric Livingston figured it was time to retire.
He has been all over the world and country, but said: “There’s no place like home.” Coming back meant being near family and settling down. So he and his wife Wendi purchased a farmhouse in Eldon, near Wendi’s childhood home.
Wendi thought they both deserved to settle down. They moved a lot. Virginia, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., Okinawa, Japan, Rhode Island, Illinois and Georgia.
Livingston’s journey started when he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1987. His stepdad, a Vietnam veteran, influenced his decision. Livingston explored the different branches before finally settling on the Marine Corps. He served in the Gulf and Iraq War. He had deployments to Afghanistan, too.
Livingston went to boot camp in San Diego, California. He moved back to his home in Ottumwa upon his mother’s cancer diagnosis and met Wendi in 1990.
After staying in Ottumwa for a little bit, Livingston had to go to Saudi Arabia to serve in the Gulf War. He got back in 1991. Wendi waited for him. Then they got married in 1993. Now they have four children: Mason, 25, Kali, 23, Brenna, 21, and Gavin, who is 19.
Livingston had to go through a lot in his 33 years of service, like surgery for the “different wears and tears of the body.” He gained some life lessons, too, after providing humanitarian relief to the Philippines and Cuba and sending aid to Africa after the Ebola outbreak.
“[With the Marine Corps] you never have to worry about whether you want something that’s worthy or something that’s worthwhile,” Livingston said. “There’s a lot of positions I’ve had that I have not had to not think about whether what I’m doing is valuable. You know you’re doing something worthwhile. Sometimes you don’t agree with what you’re doing, but you always know they’re trying to do the best for everyone and trying to take care of people.”
Coming back home, after two back to back combat deployments was difficult for Livingston. He loved being home, but it required learning to readjust to civilian life in North Carolina.
“I did the second deployment,” Livingston said, “and then coming back from the second deployment, it was pretty difficult because now, quite frankly, I was not used to living in a family environment. You had your schedule. You had your schedule. You knew what was going on, who is supposed to do what and it was hard getting back to the family and not treating them like I would treat my marines.”
“You know with what was going on in that timeframe in Iraq, it was very serious,” he added. “I mean everything was deadly serious and when you come back and you’re dealing with someone that doesn’t do what they’re supposed to do, it’s trying. It took me a little while to adjust.”
Livingston’s deployments were one of the most challenging times for the entire family. After that point, Wendi could see “how it was a blessing, but also challenging being a part-time single mom.”
“It’s emotionally challenging when you have four kids and you have to be the strong person,” she said. “However we lived on base and I could look down my street and I can say ‘well her husband’s deployed,’ so like all the marines were deployed so you really had a sense of community because you all just work together.”
Eric and Wendi both agreed the military life has shaped them in some ways.
“This is hard,” Wendi said. “This is part of military life. I am married to a marine that I know even if you told him that he needed to go deploy somewhere and you gave him a rifle, he would do it. I’ve always known that’s who I’m married to. I’m married to someone who serves, so even though it may be hard to carry the family it was an honor to do it.”
“You’ve become a much more independent person,” Eric said to Wendi. “You’ve become a much more independent person because you’ve had to live without me raising the kids, making the decisions without me moving into different houses, moving into different countries.”
“I think being in the marines in a lot of ways brought out things that I wanted to be a part of my personality,” Eric said, “being with a bunch of people that have very high standards, it makes you have very high standards. It makes you have very high standards and you don’t want to be the person that doesn’t have high standards so you push yourself harder and harder. It’s not hard to be dedicated when you’re amongst a lot of dedicated people.”
Now the couple is ready to settle down and try their hands at farming. They want to get involved in the community and have a place all their children can call home — farmland surrounded by green hills and peaceful sounds of nature.